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From: "Robert Borski" <rborski@coredcs.com>
Subject: (urth) The Prisoners in Cell 986
Date: Sun, 31 May 1998 16:39:06 

Yet another mystery I detail in my CAVE CANEM involves the account of Mrs.

Mrs. Blount is an 80 year old woman Dr. Marsch interviews for his
anthropological research, hoping to glean some abo lore. She tells the good
doctor how she was actually born aboard one of the "colony" ships just
before it departed for Sainte Anne from Earth, but it is most curious

For starters a war is going on on Sainte Anne, although it does end before
her ship makes planetfall. We know this because Mrs. B. mentions how only
the very smallest French children did not bear war injuries. That the war
had been going on at least 21 years--which is how long it takes the ship to
reach Sainte Anne-- we also know, because Mrs. Blount never says anything
like "Gosh, imagine our surprise when we got to the New Eden and found out
a war had broken out while we're in transit." As the shipbound travelers
are put to sleep on boarding the vessal, they're also precluded any advance
knowledge of a sudden war having broken out as well.

But why would you want to ship out to someplace where a war was going on,
especially if you were pregnant, as Mrs. Blount's mother was? It would be a
little like picking Bosnia for a vacation spree with your kids during the
height of the Yugoslav conflict.

We also have Mrs. Blount's account of the ship's name. It's Nine-Eight-Six.
Not a name, but a number. Mrs. Blount subsequently tells us it's not one of
the first ships to launch, but one of the earlier. She also tells us she
once heard ships had names instead of numbers, which she feels would have
been "prettier."

Again, this seemed strange, and for a while both mantis and I attempted all
sorts of decoding, not coming up with anything. But then as we were
discussing how prisoner Two Twelve To the Mountains was almost certainly
Number Five (2 + 1 + 2 = 5), another clue fell into place.

The only numbers given in all of VRT are cell numbers.

What if the ship named Nine-Eight-Six was actually a single big cell? I.e.,
not a colony ship in the regular sense of the word, but one that was used
to transfer prisoners to an off-world penal colony--which immediately
recalls Australia, the similarly-named abos of which are already a tangent.
Question for our fine Australian representative, Mr. Broderick: are there
any towns in Australia named Blount? Or perhaps some historical penal
colony figure similarly named?

Also, granted that the passengers of Nine-Eight-Six are prison scum, would
any government be bothered by the notion that they might lose their lives
in some conflict on the other end of the destination? Me thinks not,

This is also lends a whole new angle to possible reasons for the aforesaid
war--i.e., the French of Sainte Anne-Sainte Croix doing a reverse Emma
Lazarus and saying to the Mother World, hey, would you mind not sending us
your tired, poor, muddled refuse, please.

Clearly, it's quite possible the sisterworlds of FIFTH HEAD may have
started out as penal colonies.

Robert Borski



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